House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I imagine that you will be pleased to know that question No. 13 will be answered today.

Question No. 13
Routine Proceedings

November 26th, 2004 / 12:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Williams Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

With regard to the testimony given by the Clerk of the Privy Council to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts on May 3, 2004 (Meeting No. 39, 37th Parliament, 3rd Session): ( a ) on how many occasions have deputy ministers approached the current Clerk of the Privy Council with concerns that a minister may have asked the deputy minister or department to carry out an illegal or improper activity; ( b ) which deputy minister(s) approached the Clerk and which department(s) was/were involved; ( c ) what were the details of the request which triggered the discussion with the Clerk; and ( d ) in each case, was the expenditure of public money involved?

Question No. 13
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine
Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Canada—U.S.)

Mr. Speaker, on May 3, 2004, the Clerk of the Privy Council informed the public accounts committee that, on about three occasions over two years, deputy ministers had come to him to say that they had strongly advised a minister that something the minister wanted should or could not be done. He also made it clear that this was not to be interpreted as meaning that ministers wanted to do anything illegal and that, indeed, in every instance, the actions taken were consistent with the law.

Moreover, as deputy of the Prime Minister and head of the public service, and to promote effective management of the public service, the Clerk of the Privy Council must be in a position to receive full and frank information about internal governmental operations. As well, ministers must be in a position to express freely their opinions and views, and to share them with their deputy ministers in confidentiality. This point was also made before the public account committee. These important principles are recognized in the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act.

Asking the Clerk of the Privy Council to disclose opinions or views that a minister may have expressed on a confidential basis, in a context such as here where all actions taken were consistent with the law, would draw him into a political role and be contrary to the convention of neutrality of the public service.

Disclosure of such information would therefore prejudice both the confidential nature of the discussions and the importance of protecting the neutrality of the public service.

Question No. 13
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Question No. 13
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is that agreed?

Question No. 13
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-22, an act to establish the Department of Social Development and to amend and repeal certain related Acts be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's decision to divide the Department of Human Resources Development into two distinct departments, Human Resources and Skills Development , and Social Development, ignores the realities and needs of Quebec and of the other provinces and territories.

I must say that I am really impressed by the ingenuity and creativity of this government in coming up with ways to interfere in areas that came under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. Imagine just for a moment all that energy being focussed on ensuring that each province received its fair share in order to meet its responsibilities toward its citizens.

Unfortunately, this department is just one more example of the astronomical amounts being sunk into a whole series of federal administrative duplications, rather than being redistributed to the provinces to put an end to fiscal imbalance.

I worked for years in the community sector and I have sat on many boards of organizations in Laval. In particular, I was on a committee called the Comité permanent des aînés du secteur 2, whose mission was to end isolation among seniors and help them to a better life through meetings, leisure activities, training and information. I also sat on the Conseil des médias communautaires, a community media council providing an Internet portal and newsletter for community groups in Laval. I was involved in the Centre d'aide et d'accompagnement aux plaintes, which offers support in making claims and getting results to people having problems with the health or social services systems.

I was also active with a program called 1,2,3 GO! which helps infants and their parents get a good start in life, and with the Maison des grand-parents de Laval,which gives seniors a chance to pass on their knowledge to young people, through intergenerational activities such as letter-writing, knitting courses, homework help and many other things, so that they can continue to share what they have learned and what they have become. In addition, I was a member of the Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et pré-retraitées, which is Quebec's leading advocate for seniors' rights.

In addition, I was active in the Carrefour d'interculture de Laval, an organization that welcomes new immigrants and refugees, helps them get established and helps them deal with the tragedies they may have experienced. I was active in the Coopérative de développement régional Montréal-Laval, which does cooperative development,and in the Forum de la population de la Régie régionale de Laval, a public forum to ensure that health and social services decisions reflect the true needs of the people of Laval. Finally, I sat on the Comité consultatif du poste de police communautaire du secteur 2, which works with all social and economic partners to provide a better quality of life to residents of the Laval-des-Rapides, Pont-Viau and Renaud areas.

Therefore, I am very familiar with the serious situation in Quebec caused by the fiscal imbalance.

It might be thought that even I, as a dedicated and committed sovereignist, was tempted by some of these new programs that are being proposed. Happily, even though I come from a poor environment, and though I may engage in poor politics, if one believes the campaign speeches by the Quebec lieutenant, unlike him, I do not engage in petty politics. When the federal government takes advantage of the fiscal imbalance it has itself created to grab jurisdictions that never belonged to it, that is petty politics.

Unfortunately, on November 1, the Quebec lieutenant made the following statement to La Presse , “We are talking about addressing the priorities identified during the last campaign but, when that is done, we will move on to other challenges which, this time, will be more within our jurisdiction”.

With statements like these, the situation is not about to be resolved. A person has to be totally ignorant of the problems facing real people and the needs of Quebeckers to strut about like that.

When I took a closer look, I realized how pernicious the implementation of these programs was. A case in point is the social development partnerships program, designed to provide grants and contributions to non-profit organizations working to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities, children and their families, and other vulnerable or excluded populations, and to address their social development needs.

Then, there is the voluntary sector initiative, designed to enhance relations with the voluntary sector. For the duration of the initiative, both sectors would work together to facilitate access by these organizations to federal programs, technology and more.

Finally, there is the new horizons for seniors program, to support a range of community-based projects intended to enable seniors to participate in social activities, pursue an active life and contribute to society.

Such direct federal interventions with community organizations are a blatant invasion of the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, which maintain a relationship with these organizations through the health and social services network. Their sole purpose is to create dependency on programs which are not sustainable and which makes beggars out of the organizations.

These organizations deserve better. On a daily basis, by conviction, and often calling—it is fair to talk about a calling when we see the salaries paid in the community sector—thousands of people are busy helping, supporting, informing, training and caring for thousands of others, who would be on their own otherwise.

I worked in community services for over ten years and I know a thing or two about it. I know that people worked 70, 80 or 90 hours a week and got paid for only 30 or 35 hours. They work these hours because they believe they can help people get through their problems.

The fiscal imbalance often has tragic effects, and people who work in this field can detect them. They can see the effects and understand them. They work with seniors, some of whom unfortunately have not received the guaranteed income supplement, because it was not made available to them or they were not given the full retroactive payment to which they were entitled. When you go to the homes of people like that you see that they have nothing in their fridge. They have to choose between buying medication or food. It is appalling and outrageous.

The Government of Quebec is in the best position to assess the real needs. It does not just hand out money. It intervenes through a stable, structured and long-term policy.

The Bloc Québécois cannot therefore support the creation of a department that, by definition, interferes in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the other provinces. This government keeps promising to respect the jurisdictions of Quebec, but, in fact, the opposite occurs.

This government has a reputation for interfering, and we simply do not believe its promises any more. Although I believe the minister has good intentions, I do not believe that his government has good intentions.

Despite the inclusion of the Bloc Québécois amendment to the amendment in the Speech from the Throne requiring the government to fully respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, we must remain vigilant.

If this government would keep to its own responsibilities and honour the agreements and promises it has made with people in areas under its responsibility, I think this would go over better.

Look at assistance for veterans. I know all about this. My father is a veteran. He fought in World War II. He spent six years on the front lines. He fought in every campaign: Italy, Poland, Holland and North Africa. He was a scout, which meant he slept in the trenches.

When he came home from the front, a broken and exhausted man, he was suffering from various conditions for which the authorities would do nothing, or claimed nothing could be done. We spend 20 years fighting to get him hearing aids. We spent 20 years trying to prove that his deafness was due to having to sleep in the trenches and in close proximity to exploding shells and bombs for the whole length of the war. It was a dreadful experience.

Unfortunately, my father is no longer with us, and so has not been able to profit from this new generosity toward veterans. There are, however, others who are still suffering and are not yet covered, not yet compensated for their contribution and their courage.

Now they dare bring up the idea of a new department in charge of social affairs. I cannot get over it.

Clearly, despite the addition of the Bloc Québécois amendment to the amendment in connection with the Speech from the Throne obliging the government to respect the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, we need to remain very much on guard. The only thing the government wants is to weaken the provinces still further, to interfere even more in areas of jurisdiction that do not belong to it, by trying to fool the public.

For 2002-03 alone, these intrusions represent $81 billion, which is 44% of federal expenditures and 55% of the government's operating expenses. This is a disgrace. The question we would be entitled to ask is this. Would this by chance be a new department created in order to give this government the high profile it used to get from the sponsorship program? Or is it viewed as a replacement for the Canadian unity fund?

I would invite all parties in this House to listen to reason and vote against this bill.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Ahuntsic
Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, I am not surprised at the speech made by the hon. member for Laval, who is a new member of this House, because I have been hearing the same thing for 12 years in this House. For 12 years, all the members of the Bloc Québécois have been saying the same thing on this subject, that it comes under provincial jurisdiction.

But we are well aware that in their opinion, Canada should not exist, and the departments that have anything to do with Quebec should not exist either.

There was a report by a House of Commons committee which proposed, after careful analysis, that the two departments should be split. There was a minority report, based on the same argument we keep hearing in this House, the one about provincial jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, there was a department to look after Canadian citizens from birth to death, from the beginning of their lives to the end. This department existed. Therefore, this bill had to follow up on the committee's recommendations. That is what we are doing today in the House. We are not talking about a social engineering project like the Bloc proposes.

Moreover, since this department was created, we have experienced very good collaboration with the federalist government in Quebec. Therefore, we will continue to work together on the areas in this department's portfolio, bearing in mind the people it serves. It is a form of collaboration, after all. We must work together with our provincial colleagues, with all the non-governmental organizations and with all the volunteers. That is what we are trying to do with this bill, to give legal form to something that already existed and has now been split into two parts.

I have a question for the new member, for whom I most certainly have great respect. I am familiar with her commitment to voluntary and non-governmental organizations. With regard to the programs under this department, should we not have such cooperation with the provincial government, to ensure that, especially where Quebec is doing good things, we can provide the resources? Should we not continue to collaborate? That is my question for the hon. member.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question. I have great admiration for her also. I am aware of her social involvement.

We are indeed totally in favour of the federal government giving the money to Quebec, so that we can look after these programs ourselves. What we have a problem with is the federal government taking upon itself to run these programs. Let the government give us the money and correct the fiscal imbalance and, believe me, these programs will be well managed by Quebec. As my hon. colleague said, Quebec has very good expertise, and long experience with community programs for seniors, children and the sick.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do have a question for my hon. colleague, who made an excellent speech. The parliamentary secretary claims that this government has an excellent relationship and fruitful discussions with the Government of Quebec. Even if the current government in Quebec is a federalist one, I have news for her.

Quebec's employment, social solidarity and family minister, Claude Béchard, who is a cabinet member in the federalist government in Quebec, had a motion put before the National Assembly to make sure he had the support of all the members in negotiating with the federal government. This motion was introduced on November 3, 2004, that is to say, very recently. I will read what it says, if I may. It is very short:

That, in the negotiations with the federal government on the implementation of a new Canada-wide child care program, the National Assembly support the Government of Quebec in its efforts to obtain funding with no strings attached and in the respect of Quebec's constitutional jurisdictions.

Try as they may to have us believe that there is agreement, that is not true when it comes to respect for jurisdictions. That is what I would like to ask of my hon. colleague who made an excellent speech on this bill which is, once again, another example of encroachment.

I would like my hon. colleague to elaborate on all these encroachments by the federal government in the case of the provinces, and Quebec in particular, which are the source of so many problems.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, just look at the problem with child care. It is indeed a problem that concerns us all. There are also problems with the community agencies, as I was saying earlier, and with parental leave.

The list is so long that I could spend another 10 minutes explaining all the problems that have not been resolved because of the fiscal imbalance. There is a problem with employment insurance and everything that comes under Quebec jurisdiction, such as persons with disabilities, people with specific problems, education. The list goes on.

I thank my hon. colleague very much for his question. I will end there.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I cannot let the words of the hon. member go unanswered. Of course, the hon. member tells us what the Quebec minister said but I can assure him that the minister was there at the table with us. He was there to negotiate. That is what was said, they are prepared to sit down with us to negotiate. At the moment, the final agreement is not signed.

No one on this side has said that Quebec's child care program is not the best in the country. On the contrary, we have said it is the best. I am from Quebec. My riding is in Quebec. I know exactly what services are available.

There are a few problems, however, as far as training is concerned. That is what I hear from people in connection with day care and the situation needs to be remedied. I think that the $5 billion we are prepared to invest and to share with the provinces will enable us to create a program, or continue the one in place, where there is one. The minister has said that thought will be given to this in January when we again sit down with the representatives of the provinces. Mr. Béchard is part of the negotiating group.

That is the difference between the way things were in the days of the Parti Québécois government, and now that there is a Liberal government in Quebec. They are prepared to sit down, to negotiate, to work together.

So I ask again: should we not have a negotiating table, precisely so that we can negotiate in areas where there is shared jurisdiction between the federal and the provincial governments and where we can work together? We are prepared to work together.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is surely aware that a committee has already been struck to deal with the fiscal imbalance. Therefore, I am convinced that all the problems caused by the federal government's infringements will be solved.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to add my voice in support of this bill to formally create the new Department of Social Development, because I believe it will do much to improve the lives of Canadian seniors.

As we all know, life expectancy in Canada has risen substantially over the past century. As a result, the number of people 65 and older is expected to double, from 4.6 million last year to 9.2 million by 2041.

One obvious consequence will be felt when the baby-boomer generation hits retirement age. Instead of contributing to pension funds, they will be drawing on them. Already nearly five million Canadians receive benefits through the Canadian pension plan and old age security programs and that number has nowhere to go but up.

Is this cause for alarm? No, it is not. It simply requires us to recognize the reality and to prepare for it.

What is more, we ought to focus on the wonderful contributions that seniors make to our families, our communities and our society. We should be figuring out ways to encourage and promote their active engagement.

That is one of the key purposes of this new department of Social Development Canada: to serve as a focal point for initiatives for seniors, initiatives including income support programs to prevent seniors from living in poverty, and other programs to involve and engage them in their communities.

Seniors need enough money to live on, to be sure, but they need something else as well. They have to feel that their lives are full and worthwhile.

Social Development Canada, working with its many partners in the provinces and territories, municipalities, the private sector, the voluntary sector and learning institutions, is taking important steps to achieve both these ends.

The Government of Canada currently spends more than $63 billion a year on programs and services for seniors. This includes almost $21 billion for universal old age security pensions, nearly $16 billion for Canada's pension plan for retired workers, $5.8 billion for the guaranteed income supplement for low income seniors, and more than $4 billion for other survivor and death benefits as well as health care.

It is reassuring to know that our public pension system is there for our most vulnerable citizens. Indeed, public pensions have helped reduce the proportion of seniors living below the poverty line from 20.8% in 1980 to 7.3% in 2000. As OECD statistics confirm, Canada is a world leader in alleviating poverty among seniors.

Social Development Canada will continue to administer these programs with the same level of professionalism and courtesy that Canadian seniors have come to expect.

A secure source of income is critically important for all our seniors, but with men now spending more than 17% of their lives in retirement and women close to 28%, we need to take the broadest view possible. We need to think about quality of life.

We know that seniors can easily get cut off from the rest of society. This is not uncommon after somebody loses a spouse, especially when their children and grandchildren live far away, yet social engagement is essential because it translates into greater physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Fortunately, many seniors do keep very busy. A few, about 6%, remain in the paid workforce after they reach 65. Nearly one in five give back to their communities through volunteer activities. Many more provide transportation and child care and run errands for friends and families.

We need to support such engagement and expand on it to give as many Canadian seniors as possible a chance to remain active participants in our society.

That is why Social Development Canada has unveiled the new horizons for seniors program. The new horizons program will support community based projects to encourage seniors to participate in social activities, pursue an active life and contribute to their communities.

Seniors' organizations, volunteer groups, community based coalitions, municipal governments and aboriginal groups will be able to propose a variety of projects eligible for funding under the program budget of $8 million this year and $10 million in the year ahead.

Initiated and led by seniors, each project will harness the skills, experience and wisdom of older Canadians in activities that will benefit their local communities. That will be good for seniors and good for everybody around them.

It is true that neighbours and families have vital roles to play in keeping older Canadians connected to their communities, but this does not mean that governments cannot help as well. Social Development Canada's role will be to provide the resources to turn good ideas into reality. It will also serve as a clearinghouse for those good ideas so that one community can learn from another.

I think we can all agree that there are real and tangible benefits for a society that looks after its older members. The well-being of seniors is a priority for the Government of Canada. That is why the Prime Minister created a new cabinet position and appointed the hon. member for Trinity--Spadina as Minister of State for Families and Caregivers.

Seniors with strong connections to their families and communities are well positioned to share the wisdom of their experience with others, whether informally or more formally through voluntary activities or paid work. Healthy and socially connected seniors are more likely to live independent lives, an outcome that the Government of Canada is working to support.

Social Development Canada will coordinate policy work at the federal level and in cooperation with the provinces to ensure that seniors' programming is aligned to achieve the best results for current and future seniors.

As a society we are enriched by the wisdom and knowledge of our older citizens. The Speech from the Throne put it best: “Canada's seniors have earned the right to be treated with dignity”.

Support for our country's aging population is an important priority of the Government of Canada. Under the leadership of Social Development Canada, we will have the mechanisms to bring all the partners together, to focus on the challenges and opportunities of an aging society, and to ensure we have the programs and services that will allow all Canadians to live the final years of their lives with comfort and dignity.

Seniors are vital members of our communities. They have earned the right to be treated well by the society to which they have contributed so much.

By passing this legislation to create Social Development Canada, we will create a means for all Canadians to express their respect and appreciation.

I would like to state, as I asked the hon. minister today in the House, what the government's priority for seniors is going to be. He clearly outlined the government's priority. It is one that respects our seniors, our voluntary sector and people who are afflicted with handicaps.

In my riding of Davenport and across this country, seniors play a vital role in community services. Seniors are the backbone of the volunteer sector. They are the ones who contribute most to our society. Because of that, because of their contributions to this country, we strive to make their lives better, to have them live in dignity.

Through the various announcements the government has made and the creation of the new ministry and department, this is an issue where the government has a focus on seniors, on people with disabilities and of course on people who are volunteering and giving so much to our communities.

I encourage my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill.